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Joe Madere, An Oral History

This is a transcript of videotape that was created to complete a class assignment. I, Lias Schloemer, Joe's daughter, asked some questions of Joe. The following are his responses. My comments are in Italics.

Today is April 18,1992.

Tell me something about your birth and your parents.

My name is Joseph Madere. I was born July the 10th, 1925 in New Orleans, Louisiana at 4817 Dauphine Street. My mother's name is Bessie Mae Gilliam Madere, born May 4, 1903 in Picayune, Mississippi. My father's name is Stanley A. Madere Sr., Born September 21, 1899 in Montz, La. (died July 18,1991) I have five sisters and four brothers, I being the third. Their names are: Mae, Stanley, Elizabeth, Martha, Rebecca, David, Betty, Kent, and Russel.

What is your first memory?

It was back when I was 1 1/2 to 2 years old I presume. I was in Garyville in a large house and the back door was open. I was riding a little red tricycle. I looked out the back door and I saw a very large man chopping wood with an axe. I was very frightened, I ran to my mother.

How did the depression of the 1930's affect your parents and family? Tell me about your childhood.

As for my parents and the depression years- I remember it very well. There was little money and very little work and very little to eat. We ate an awful lot of rice and beans and potatoes- Irish potatoes and sweet potatoes, and wild vegetables- turnips, and collard greens; deer meat, ducks anything that moved that my father could kill we would eat. My mother was strictly a housewife during this time.

We moved quite often between Garyville and New Orleans; the last time we moved from Garyville would be about 1937 during a high flood. We moved back into New Orleans. Growing up back in Garyville I can also remember hunting.

One time, I was probably 7 or 8 years old, I went out with a friend of mine at night with a carbide headlight, which is very heavy on top of the head. I was carrying a 410 shotgun. We were hunting rabbits in the field. I was standing at the edge of the field when I heard a long scream like a woman being murdered. I dropped my gun and the headlight and I ran home. Later, I found out it was a screech owl in the tree above me. I went back the next day to get my shotgun and the headlight.

Your "formal" education ended at an early stage to help your family. Describe how that was.

I quit school at a very young age. I went through the fifth grade of grammar school. The jobs I had starting off were as a delivery boy and a stock boy at a grocery store for $3 a week. Money came in real handy. I went from there to delivering for drug stores then I went into soda jerking, which was a little higher job- good and clean, inside work. I did that for about a year. I also worked in service stations, pumping gas and greasing automobiles, washing automobiles, fixing flat tires and changing oil. Then the war came along.

Tell me about World War II and your army career.

I was drafted. I went down and took my examination in October of 1943; I passed with flying colors. I entered the service November the 16th, 1943. We left New Orleans and went to Alexandria, Camp Beauregard. From Camp Beauregard, we went to Camp White in Medford, Oregon. We took our basic training at Camp White. It was cold, the ground was frozen and covered with rocks, making it very hard for walking or doing anything. We also trained building bridges and floats across the Rouge River, which is a very cold and very swift river. After basic training we went to Texas- Camp Howes. I don't know exactly were it was located at the time, but we were there for about two months. We left Camp Howes and we went to West Virginia for mountain training. We also cleared the area for the infantry and armored divisions to train in the mountains. We left West Virginia to Virginia where we re-supplied- clothes, helmets, rifles, and everything we needed.

From there we went to New York where we boarded a ship. We had MP duty to guard everything there and to make everyone behave themselves. It was a good deal for us because we could eat any time we wanted, because we were working. The rest of the people on the ship got two meals a day, one in the morning and one at night. It was a very, very big ship. We were on this ship 14 days when we reached England. We were right out of Manchester. We were there up until the Battle of the Bulge. We were put on light boats and crossed over into La Havre, France. We walked 20-25 miles to a staging area where we recieved our vehicles to move on into the Battle of the Bulge. The Battle of the Bulge was one of the coldest places I've ever been in. After the battle was over, they moved us in for a little rest near the Maginot Line- that was the French line of defense. We stayed there for about a week. From there we moved out to a little town in France, and we patrolled the area between Saarlaten and Saarbruckeen (on the front lines). There weren't many Germans there at the time, but it was quite a distance and we had to patrol it in trucks. We couldn't tell where the roads were because everything was snowed over. Half the time we were out in the ditches.

While I was there, I was given duty with another squad to go clear a minefield near Metz, France. They were going to move the Allied Headquarters to Metz. They wanted to run new wires so they could get electricity but the minefields were laid under the line so they couldn't lay any wires. So, we got the job of cleaning out the minefields. The minefields were frozen. I was a demolition man at the time and my job was to fix the charges and blow them up once they were found. In this area we lost a few men from mines exploding before I had a chance to blow them up. We lost a lieutenant and three other men and there were six wounded; some slightly and they didn't have to go to the hospital. We moved around France and a few other places to clear up minefields that the Germans had left. We had to clear them up so that we could bring the new armor up that were to take the front lines over. From there we moved through Luxembourg, Belgium and Holland.

In Holland, we were attached to the English 2nd Army and we were eating their food, which wasn't very good.

In Holland, we were given the job to build a bridge across the Ruhr (Roer) River at Roermond. We moved up one day late in the evening. I had gotten a break; I didn't have to work on the bridge. I was sitting in the machine gun nest up on the railroad track protecting the workers.

After the bridge was built, we pulled back and went into training for the crossing of the Rhine River. We trained for about 2 weeks with the 79th Infantry Division crossing the rivers back and forth in the boats. Finally the day came, March 22, 1945, we moved into the Rhine; we put our boats into the water. The job I had was operating a small ferry boat. There were three of us operating it, with three 22 horsepower Johnson motors on a small ferry that we had built, and transporting light vehicles across the Rhine. It went pretty good that day. I had three different assistants that were to jump off and secure the lines so that we could get the vehicles off. All three of them got hit. One got hit, he went off, I got a replacement. He got hit and he went off on the next trip. The first one that had gotten hit was sent back and on the third trip he got hit again; so they sent him back and sent me another one. The rest of the day wasn't that bad. There weren't too many shells coming in; so we finished that off pretty good.

Our next assignment was to move into the Rurh pocket. The Germans were completely surrounded and they had blown some bridges and we had to get it open so that we could get some tanks in- to get in and either wipe these Germans out or capture them and take them prisoner. That was on the Rheinherdt Canal. There were two little canals in the coal mine district and we had to bridge them. This one bridge was a floating bridge with three large pontoons. Every time the third pontoon would hit the water, the Germans would blow the whole bridge up.

This is were I got a small wound. It was a minor wound in the hand and stomach-I didn't even report it. After that operation was over, the Rurh Pocket was cleaned out and all the Germans were taken.

We moved into the 82nd Airborne Division for the crossing of the Elbe River. On the Elbe, we made quite a few patrols onto the river itself. We lucked out on that because the war was coming to an end and we crossed the Elbe River with no problem at all. We wound up in Dresden, Germany. That was about the time of the end of the war.

The war was over, but we had to get all new equipment and field inspection as the army usually does. We had to go into Berlin but our orders were cancelled. We were re-supplied and put on standby to board ships to go to the invasion of Japan. But as everyone knows, they dropped the atomic bomb and our orders were cancelled. So we stayed in Germany.

Later on, there was a group that was selected to go for rest and relaxation. They sent us to England for a short visit. The outfit I was with at the time was the 187th Combat Engineers; when I got back from England there was no more 187th Combat Engineers; they were disbanded. Some were sent home and some were transferred.

I was transferred to the 332nd Engineer Battalion in Frankfort, Germany. From there I was asked to extend my enlistment for six months because they were having trouble getting replacements for the occupation of Germany. I extended for 6 months and I didn't come home until April of 1946. I came home, got discharged.

What did you do after the war?

The war had been over for almost a year by then and it was impossible to find any type of work. I went from one job to the other. I drove taxi cabs, and worked for the Corps of Engineers. I decided that wasn't for me, so I re-enlisted in the Army and went back to Germany. I re-enlisted as a Private 1st Class. From there I was sent with the 54th Combat Engineers in Germany; it was a United States constabulary at the time. We were policing Germany. Then we were changed to the combat outfit; it was no longer the constabulary as a police unit. I worked myself up, and because of my background in World War II, I was made squad leader and then platoon commander. Finally, when I got out I had worked my way up to Master Sergeant. Ninety percent of the troops were new recruits on my last tour of duty and we had to train them. I trained them mainly in map reading, bridge building, demolition and helped to cope with the necessity of war in case it came to that.

Right when the Korean War broke out, I was assigned the job to photograph all bridges in our sector-from top to bottom, and the location to decide what it would take to blow them up or burn them up in case the Russians came across to take over our sector of Germany. When this job was done, all this information was turned over to a new outfit that was set up to blow the bridges if necessary and we were moved to Ulm, Germany.

From Ulm, in 1952, I was sent back to the United States because my tour of duty was over. I had originally signed my last tour for three years and extended for another year. That made it four years. I wound up spending around nine years in the service, from October 1943 until August the 2nd 1952.

After your years in the service, how did you become a police officer?

After being discharged from the Army in 1952, I drove a taxicab for a little while. I went to work for the Corps of Engineers on the Mississippi River for about two years. I quit and took the examination for the New Orleans Police department. When I took the examination, there were two thousand people taking the exam. Out of the two thousand, eighty-five people passed. Out of the eighty-five, thirty-five people entered the academy in 1955.

After the academy, my first assignment was traffic division, where I worked for about three weeks before I was transferred to the third district. In 1957 I was transferred to the old shotgun squad-the old burglary squad; after leaving the burglary squad I went into the vice squad. I stayed in the vice squad for four years, worked mostly Bourbon Street nightclubs, handbook operations, card games and prostitutes.

After the vice squad, I was transferred to the fifth district and from there to the seventh district. While at the seventh, I also worked the mounted division. From the seventh, I went to work with the night supervisor. It was all night work checking all the districts, to ensure all officers were doing their duty, checking on who was sick and who was not sick, making all major scenes-murders, armed robberies.

In 1971, I left the night supervisor and was asked to form the Ecology Squad; at the time it did not have the name of the Ecology Squad, which came later. I was assigned to discover what was causing the heavy smog on the highways and try to eliminate it. At the time, the developers were draining the eastern section of New Orleans and drying the organic matter. Exposed to oxygen, it decomposed very rapidly. And in peat fires the smoke mixed with the fog in the area created a heavy smog containing particles from the organic matter: sulfur, phosphorus, nitrogen, salt and other organic materials. The smog created was heavy enough to close down the roadways, interstates and all of the highways. It caused large amounts of traffic fatalities. People with asthma and emphysema were jamming the hospital emergency rooms. I had to find out what was causing these fires.

I made an in-depth study of the area and found out that the fisherman were setting fires to drive the mosquitoes and gnats off, and the hunters were setting fires to flush the game out. Started putting hunters in jail and in the first year we eliminated the smog. The job was done so well they asked me to stay on and expand it.

Expanding the ecology squad meant handling all of the wild animals in the area. New Orleans is completely surrounded by marshland containing wildlife-alligators, snakes, nutria, coons, minks, and possums-no one knew how to handle them. The SPCA would not handle wild animals; all they handled were cats and dogs. I was given the job to handle all wild animals. From this it went into education- educating the general public and school children from kindergarten to college level using slide shows and lectures.

The ecology squad became known internationally. The first newsbreak occurred in City Park in New Orleans. There was an alligator and the federal and state Wildlife and Fisheries Departments didn't know how to catch an alligator. At the time, the alligator was an endangered species. I was called and asked if I could move the alligator to another location. The alligator was creating a problem in City Park because of children playing, people on the golf course and people running their dogs. These alligators were catching the dogs when they were close to the water and eating them. I went in and after the first week, I removed two alligators. It made the front page in Seoul, Korea. From then on I handled all alligators in New Orleans and surrounding parishes. Articles were written in the newspapers' Sunday supplements, in an article entitled "When A Pirogue Is a Squad Car". I also went to New York to do the television show "To Tell the Truth." It was on a full-page article in the Times Picayune where I was given the name "Alligator Joe".

How did you know how to capture alligators?

It wasn't very easy learning how to take alligators alive without hurting them. These alligators get very big. Normally the alligators handled were 6-8 foot, but it was not unusual to get an alligator 9-12 foot. We roped them, tied them up and relocated them to an area where they would not get hurt or hurt people.

How did you meet Mom (Shirley Jean Moir Madere)?

While I was on the Vice Squad and in the Meal A Minute restaurant on Canal Street, I met a little blonde and fell in love and married- that was your mother. You know how the story goes, you have heard it many times; I was a confirmed bachelor, and at 34 I became the father of two boys. Now I also have two daughters and two foster boys and ten grandchildren. Looking back over the years there were many trips to the beach, to the church, driving kids here and there. Getting up early in the morning to drive kids to work and going back to pick them up in the afternoon. Going to City and Audubon Park. Taking trips to Iowa and out to California.

Tell me about what you have done since you "retired"?

On June 29, 1980 I retired from the New Orleans Police Department and went to work for the New Orleans East Corporation who was developing the eastern section of New Orleans. I worked for them for five years. In 1985, they went bankrupt and Merrill Lynch took over 23,457 acres, and asked me to work for them as land manager. While working for Merrill Lynch, I worked on a project to turn 19,0000 acres to the national government as a wildlife refuge. We worked on this for 5 years, and in 1990 the final papers were signed, making the 19,000 acre Bayou Sauvage Wildlife Refuge.

I got to name the refuge, Bayou Sauvage, because of the bayou, which runs right through the middle of it, that at one time was part of the Mississippi river. This bayou was formed about 600 BC and was a tributary of the Mississippi for about 1000 years, but was sealed off as the river moved further south. Today, Bayou Sauvage is a small body of water about 2 miles long, but it is in its natural state.

The Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Refuge will be a great open classroom for the school children to learn the ecology and how New Orleans was developed 6000 years ago from the Gulf of Mexico water to what it is today- a city of about 500,000 people surrounded completely by water. Now I am completely retired and I do volunteer work for the Bayou Sauvage Refuge. I take out groups in canoes on 10-12 mile trips and take groups out on walking tours of the bayou Sauvage Ridge. 14 June 2004

Today, at nearly 79, Joe Madere is still active with his true love, the refuge. He teaches photography and the geographical history of the area to refuge visitors. He now has 16 grandchildren and two great grandchildren. He continues to live among the wildlife in the bayou.

That's our Dad and PawPaw, Alligator Joe!

This was transcribed by Lisa Schloemer, his daughter. It was put on the Internet by his grandson, Robert Schloemer.